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District Administration: Neuroscience drives universal design instruction

This article by Ryan Lacey originally appeared on District Administration.

A new teaching model that’s gaining traction in classrooms bases instruction on how different areas of the brain function.

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) consists of three primary principles to leverage the what, how and why stages of learning.

UDL’s guidelines also encourage educators to create flexible learning environments to meet the needs of students with different learning styles.

“We want to make our curriculum accessible to everyone,” says Nick Williams, coordinator of instructional technology for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, a rural Indiana district of 17 schools and 12,500 students. “We focus on whatever barriers any of our kids have, address them and provide resources so that everyone benefits.”

Here’s how UDL taps into the brain:

Recognition networks—the “what”—control how students consume the same information through different methods. For example, the same set of data can be presented as a graph or table.
Strategic networks—the “how”—dictate how students show what they’ve learned. This can include writing a research paper or speaking about a project.
Affective networks—the “why”—dispose students to different methods of feedback and motivation. Different forms of self-assessment are encouraged.
UDL was developed as a concept by David H. Rose, who co-founded the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST)—an education and research organization that has since become the leader in UDL research—in 1984.

Various districts have incorporated UDL’s principles into its LMS, including Houston ISD and Bartholomew schools.

Bartholomew’s LMS, which is itslearning, allows students to demonstrate mastery through videos, blogs and chats, all within UDL’s mission statement.

Monthly workshops encourage teachers to become UDL experts to help co-workers adjust to the new approach. A year after its 2015 launch, 98 percent of instructors and students use the LMS.

Because UDL’s framework can be presented online through the LMS, it allows Bartholomew’s schools to continue instruction when students are at home. Bartholomew has allocated e-learning, or digital classroom, days if schools exceed snow-day limits."

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